The Breezy Point North Stars junior hockey team is gearing up to take the ice for another season, but this time, things will be different both on and off the ice.
The primary changes from last year for the North Stars - a North American Tier 3 Hockey League team with the goal of developing young hockey players prior to playing at the collegiate level - are new General Manager Cory Bergquist and new head coach Chris Cutcher.
Bergquist was hired as general manager of the team and the arena in the spring, and shortly thereafter went to work finding a new head coach.
“At this level, there is a lot more to coaching than coaching,” Berquist said. “There is a lot more that comes with the job than just being on the ice. Chris has successfully filled this role in his previous endeavours. It was a good choice, I believe.”
In Cutcher’s first few weeks with the team, his players say there is a level of commitment and positivity that was not always there in previous years.
“(The feeling among the team) is pretty optimistic right now,” team captain James Curran said. “We are bringing in new guys every day, and it has only been getting better every day that we have been here.”
“I’m seeing a good work ethic out of them,” Cutcher said. “There is some good team bonding and a lot of dedication … Everybody is doing their job.”
Not only is the on-ice product seemingly changing, but team officials and players are convinced the culture surrounding the team off the ice is changing for the better as well.
“The atmosphere is different, and so is the loyalty to the organization,” Berquist said. “We all, very much, care about the success of this place, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears are being put into it.
“Win or lose, (the athletes) are going to have a good season and be able to walk away with a positive attitude toward this team, leadership and community.”
As the culture within the team and organization changes, the North Stars hope a similar change occurs in the fan experience, and hope to “build a fanbase” for the North Star athletes, none of whom are older than 20 years old.
“We are looking to change the culture,” North Stars marketing director Sarah Swanstrom said. “We want to create a venue that people want to come to and want to see succeed. We want to make a family-friendly environment, as well as help these boys get to the next level.”
With this change in coach and culture brings a newfound camaraderie among the returning players.
“We didn’t gel as a team too well last year,” forward Jordan Linder said. “There were a few cliques. We are off to a good start this year, though, and everyone seems more together.”
One way the organization hopes to improve the culture for players and fans is to have the players be more involved in the community. In previous years, athletes would take part in a few volunteer opportunities, such as hanging Christmas lights on local businesses, but Bergquist hopes to have the team really take community involvement to heart. One thing that they will do is have a few North Star athletes on the ice for every practice of the youngest members of the North Lakes Youth Hockey Association.
“There are a lot of avenues we can take,” Bergquist said. “These boys are here to learn character. It’s not just hockey. They are learning to become young men … The community does a lot for them and they know it.
“Be prepared to see these kids in the community. Be prepared to get to know them. We really want people to get to know them and love them like we do.”
The North Stars open the season against the Willmar WarHawks at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7.
“I just have to keep everything new and fun,” Cutcher said. “As long as we keep developing and growing, we will be moving in the right direction.”